Many consequences can occur as a result of abusing drugs or alcohol. An addiction can lead to a host of serious health-related complications, mental health issues, or contribute to relationship problems. Concerningly, there is also a correlation between addiction and suicide.
This is due to how addiction and its many related factors increase an addict’s risk of suicide. It may surprise you to learn that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, with substance abuse as a contributing factor towards suicidal ideation. Subsequently, individuals who suffer from addiction are more likely than their clean counterparts to experience suicidal thoughts.
To understand why the risk of suicide increases in adults who abuse substances, we are going to explore the many nuances of this concerning phenomenon. This blog will look at the relationship between addiction and suicide, as well as how addiction impacts those around addicts. We will also discuss the types of treatment available for those struggling with addiction in order to help prevent suicide.
How Substance Abuse Increases Suicide Risk
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The connection between someone having an addiction and committing suicide is, unfortunately, a strong one. Addiction affects more than just physical health; addiction has profound effects on mental health. The changes in brain chemistry brought on by addiction puts addicts at an increased risk of depression, a major risk factor for suicide.
Two factors generally contribute to what makes these individuals high-risk: addiction and the way it changes brain chemistry as well as addiction’s tendency to make someone act impulsively.
Addiction’s Effect on the Brain
Addiction and suicide have a lot to do with the brain. This is because addiction affects the brain in a way that causes substance abuse to become a priority over anything else. The brain, as a vital organ, regulates many aspects of a person’s wellbeing. It regulates emotions, breathing, coordination, temperature, and decision-making. When introduced to dangerous chemicals in drugs, the function of a healthy brain can be altered significantly.
When a person uses drugs, the brain releases the feel-good chemical, dopamine. To continue feeling good, many people will continuously abuse drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, this may lead to an addiction as their brain and body adjust to the drug and require substance use in order to function. In the end, abuse of drugs and alcohol entirely changes the way the addict’s brain functions to promote cycles of drug use.
With the nervous system greatly affected and the addict unable to stop taking drugs, many negative side effects of addiction begin to present themselves. Many of these side effects are contributing factors to both addiction and suicide, including:
- Financial issues
- Suicidal thoughts
- High-risk behavior
- Feelings of shame
- Difficulties with social interactions
- Violent behavior towards other people
Suicide and Impulsivity
Another way that substance abuse and suicide relate is through addiction’s tendency to make addicts more impulsive. Impulsivity is a common trait in addicts and one that can lead to fatal consequences. Individuals who suffer from addiction may be more likely to complete a suicide attempt quickly, without fully thinking it out or considering other options.
How Mental Illness Relates to Addiction and Suicide
Individuals who have a mental illness, especially depression, are at a much higher risk for death by suicide. With a mental illness in the equation, this risk of death by suicide for an individual with an addiction increases exponentially. This is because the majority of people who pass from suicide are diagnosed with depression, a substance use disorder, or both at the same time.
An untreated mental illness can create reasons for a person to turn to drugs or alcohol for relief from their symptoms. Unfortunately, this can lead to the development of a substance use disorder, which can increase thoughts of suicide. When someone has a substance use disorder and a mental illness at the same time, this is referred to as a dual diagnosis and requires specialized treatment to address.
How Addiction Increases Loved Ones’ Risk of Suicide
It’s important to note that the person who is addicted to substances isn’t the only person at risk for suicidal ideation. Unfortunately, the link between addiction and suicide extends to those around the addict. In particular, loved ones of individuals with an addiction may also struggle with these thoughts at a concerning rate.
Addiction is difficult to handle and the pressures—financial, social—that it can put on families may impact loved ones in ways beyond the normal stressors in life. This dilemma could affect anyone close to an addict, regardless of age or gender. However, certain characteristics and struggles do make certain individuals more susceptible to suicide attempts than others. For example, men are more than twice as likely as women to commit suicide.
How to Help Someone Who is Considering Suicide
You may be concerned that someone in your life who is dealing with addiction is also having suicidal thoughts. Due to the link between addiction and suicide, this is possible. However, the way in which suicidal ideation manifests is different depending on the person. Some people may even seem to exhibit no signs, while others will very publicly show warning signs.
Everyone is different when it comes to the warning signs they project. Still, there are a few common ones to look out for if you think someone you know is contemplating suicide:
- Giving up hobbies
- Reckless behavior
- Avoiding social situations
- Expressing a desire to die
- Regular drug and alcohol use
- Isolation from friends and family
- Abandoning sources of enjoyment
- Expressing feeling trapped in their life
- Decrease in work or academic performance
If someone close to you is exhibiting the aforementioned signs of suicide, it’s important to support them. This can come in the form of providing them a safe space to share their thoughts and feelings. It’s important to note that addiction and suicidal ideation require treatment. It’s not a guarantee that suicidal thoughts will be resolved on their own or through talking. This is because addiction is a serious disease that requires specialized treatment to overcome.
Types of Treatment That Can Help Prevent Suicide
Due to how substance abuse increases one’s risk of suicide, getting sober is one of the best methods of prevention. Alleviating depression, a substance use disorder, and the underlying contributors to addiction can save the life of a person who is experiencing both an addiction and suicidal ideation. Proper treatment that addresses why someone may want to commit suicide comes in many forms, including various types of therapy.
Therapies traditionally used in treatment facilities to address the connection between addiction and suicide include the following:
- Medication-Assisted Treatment: In cases where there is a co-occurring disorder, such as a mental illness, medication-assisted treatment may be necessary. Medication is meant to help patients engage in treatment by decreasing the overall severity of their symptoms. Anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants can treat the symptoms of a mental illness while other therapeutics tackle the underlying issues that contribute to an addiction and suicidal ideation.
- Individual Therapy: In Individual therapy, patients are provided a space to talk about addiction and suicide with a therapist one-on-one. The goal of individual therapy is to improve the patient’s thought process and encourage chance through guidance and support.
- Group Therapy: Group therapy provides patients with process groups that focus on support, psychoeducation, or skill-building. Groups can be centered around experiencing suicidal thoughts or dealing with a co-occurring mental illness that the participants share. This allows patients to escape the isolation of addiction and suicidal ideation by connecting with and healing alongside others who share similar experiences.
There are various specialized therapies available to address the link between addiction and suicide. These therapies go beyond talk and group therapy to change the way the brain functions.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a highly successful therapy option that works to change negative thought patterns to eliminate destructive behaviors. This type of therapy is a great option for patients who are experiencing co-occurring mental health issues along with their addiction. In therapy sessions, patients are assisted with discovering, identifying, and addressing their thought patterns that lead to drug abuse.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR therapy works to separate a patient from the negative emotions caused by traumatic memories. By stimulating rapid eye movement while recalling painful memories, a patient’s attention is diverted from the feelings of trauma to provide relief in cases of PTSD.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): DBT can address drug addiction, alcohol addiction, or mental illness. This type of therapy encourages emotional regulation, so the patient can manage life and their addiction better.
Everyone responds to therapy differently. Two different people may not gain positive results from engaging in the same type of therapy. This is why, at Free by the Sea, we offer an array of therapeutics to address patients’ specific needs. By talking with a treatment professional, the best option for your needs can be discovered to provide relief from addiction, mental illness, and suicidal thoughts.
Treating Addiction with Free by the Sea
The concerning link between substance abuse and suicide means that treatment is highly important. Left untreated, an addiction can have devastating consequences including emotional distress, overdose, and in some cases even death. There is the hope of a future free of addiction and suicidal ideation. Here at Free by the Sea, we work with our patients to ensure that every aspect of their addiction is treated so they can live a life free of substance abuse.
If you or a loved one is experiencing an addiction coupled with suicidal thoughts, contact us today. The sooner you or your loved one engages in treatment, the sooner the link between addiction and suicide can be broken to make room for recovery.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.